Participants gathered recently at a sex shop on Bank Street for a suicide prevention workshop aimed at “weirdos, freaks and queers” — people on the margins of society, particularly members of the LGBTTQ community, according to the event’s organizer.
“‘Suicide Intervention for Weirdos, Freaks, and Queers,” hosted by Carly Boyce was held at the Venus Envy adult emporium and featured strategies for family members and friends to support loved ones — including lesbian, gay, transsexual, two-spirited and queer people — who struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Boyce, trained in suicide intervention, said she found these methods overlooked systematic oppression and were not the best for some people on the margins of society, she said.
“We don’t see that (marginalized communities) are helped in mainstream mental health outreach and mainstream mental health services,” Boyce said.
They often do not have access to therapists who understand their experiences, she said. Sometimes, the person faces obstacles within the social service system that intervenes when one is suicidal, such as the police and hospitals, she said.
“I wanted to be able to challenge the kinds of structures and offer the other choices we can make,” she said.
“There are a lot of great services in Ottawa and other places, and sometimes, those services aren’t designed for people who are kind of the most marginalized in our communities,” said Venus Envy owner Sam Whittle.
“So I thought it was really important to have a space where people could talk about how to support people who are experiencing suicidality in a way that meets their needs.”
She added: “There hasn’t been any workshop that was similar run in Ottawa,” Whittle said, explaining why the store decided to provide room for the event — “to make sure there was space for that conversation to happen.”
Boyce, 32, has 17 years of facilitation and workshop experience — as well as a Master of Social Work degree. She is also a trauma survivor and runs her workshop mostly in Toronto, where she lives.
This is Boyce’s 14th workshop so far and her first time running it in Ottawa.
Boyce said her friends, mostly in Ottawa’s queer community, encouraged her to organize the workshop. “A few people kind of reached out and (said) would you do this workshop in my city?”
They also approached Venus Envy to serve as the venue.
Venus Envy sells sex toys and other adult paraphernalia. However, it is not just a retail outlet.
“We are also a bit of an informal community centre,” Whittle said. She said a lot of people think of the store as a space that is safe, comfortable and welcoming.
“Our mission is to be education oriented and to increase sex positive spaces,” she said. “One of the reason that people struggle is in their sexuality,” Whittle said.
Those people can have a hard time dealing with depression and facing suicidal thoughts, and this affects people’s ability to connect with others, she said. This is why the store views all of these issues as connected and that it’s important to offer a safe space for people.
According to a recent report by the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, LGBTTQ people face higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidality, self-harm and substance uses.
LGBTTQ youth face 14 times higher risk of suicide than heterosexual youths, according to the report. And 77 per cent of trans people in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide, while 45 per cent of them had attempted suicide.
In Centretown, the Centretown Community Health Centre offers help for those suffering suicidal thoughts or facing problems LGBTTQ people often confront.
The CCHC provides LGBTTQ youth counselling, LGBTTQ drop-in group conversations and a sexual health clinic for gay men.
The centre also provides an “overcoming depression” workshop and counselling for anyone facing life stress, emotional or mental health issues.